Artist Using Toxic Sludge From the Bottom of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal as Paint

The Danish-born artist Mie Olise, who is based in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood near the infamously toxic Gowanus Canal — which was declared a federal superfund cleanup site in 2010 — has been harvesting the unnatural waterway’s thick sludge, which is rich in oil, minerals, and untold numbers of dangerous carcinogens, to use as paint in her studio.

“To take the mud that everybody wants to get rid of and work with it as a material that will end up in my paintings to be hung on the wall in something traditionally known to be very precious, I find interesting as an idea,” Olise told the Brooklyn Paper. She will use industrial detritus-turned-paint to create a series of abstract black and white paintings for an upcoming solo show in May at a Manhattan gallery titled “Elapsed Intoxications.”

“They’re going to be very close up details of things around the canal like a lamppost or a fire hydrant,” she told the Paper. “I find this area almost like a dying area of the city.” The recent death of a dolphin that mistakenly swam into the industrial waterway supports this notion.

Olise mixes the Gowanus sludge with house paint so that it will stick to her canvases. “It hangs together well and it’s very, very black,” she says. The artist had previously sourced materials from the toxin-filled canal, using its water to paint a series of large-scale works portraying abandoned buildings.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Photo by the author.)